Howard Levitt: My 'never-hire' list is growing as new petition also glosses over Hamas' atrocities

Petitioners so focused on demonizing Israel they ignore the blatant human rights violations by Hamas

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I have just added 700 names to our law firm’s never-hire list.

Last Saturday’s column discussed an anti-Semitic petition signed by 74 law students at the Lincoln Alexander School of Law at Toronto Metropolitan University that “denied that Israel is even a country” but stated instead, it is a brand of a “settler colony” and voiced support for “all” forms of Palestinian resistance. Closely following the Hamas terror attack, its meaning could not be clearer. I commented that these students had made themselves unemployable and that some have already had job offers rescinded. After all, what law firm would hire them?

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In response to that column and letters of outrage sent to TMU by many leading Ontario lawyers, Jewish and non-Jewish, a new petition has been signed by close to 700 people, some associated with the legal community and some non-legal fellow travellers. Other than a couple of left-wing professors, I did not recognize a single name.

The political persuasion of the signatories is best represented by this statement, contained in the new petition: “We reject the notion that it is antisemitic, hateful, or illegitimate to contextualize the Oct. 7, 2023 attack. Similarly, we reject the notion that it is anti-Semitic, hateful, or illegitimate to express support for Palestinians in the face of ongoing Israeli apartheid and genocide. This is legitimate Charter-protected political expression.”

They refer to the suggestion that the students’ petition makes them unhirable by any respectable law firm as “McCarthyism.”

This petition is so outrageous that it is difficult to know where to start.

First, they characterize the action taken in response to the TMU’s student letter as “stifling pro-Palestinian views.” This has nothing to do with stifling pro-Palestinian views. Or even the stifling of vigorous criticism of Israel. It has everything to do with the expressed support for any form of violence, including Hamas’ atrocities. In making its argument, the petition attempts to sanitize and minimize what these TMU students actually had said.

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Second, it is illuminating that the petition contains not a single word condemning Hamas or its atrocities. Only support for those who “contextualize” its actions. “Contextualizing” the massacre, torture and kidnapping of children, the elderly, even peace activists and so many others? Is this what the petitioners regard as the expression of pro-Palestinian views? It not only shows a profound misunderstanding of protected speech, but does a disservice to legitimate pro-Palestinian advocacy.

Hamas has been declared a terrorist organization. With good reason. Its only interest is the extermination of Israel and its people. Freedom of speech protected by the Charter which the petitioners argue, does not include incitement to violence, the promotion of hatred or genocide. In some instances, such speech constitutes a hate crime under the Criminal Code. In other instances, anti-Semitic support for, and the celebration and glorification of violence violates codes of conduct, and is properly sanctioned. In yet others, it is a violation of human rights legislation.

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Second, the petition attempts to leave the impression that the pro-Palestinian perspective is the biggest victim of purported “suppression.” Unlike the large number of demonstrators freely declaring “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free” — a slogan Hamas has used to call for the annihilation of Israel — Jews on Canadian college campuses often cannot express any support for Israel without a well-grounded fear of physical attack. The “progressive” (a co-opted word) left has successfully suppressed true dialogue in favour of their one narrative.

Finally, and most egregiously, the petitioners and their fellow travellers have pursued an agenda so focused on demonizing Israel that they ignore the blatant human rights violations by Hamas. We all recall the large numbers cheering the Oct. 7 atrocities in the rallies that night before Israel even began its counteroffensive.

Charter-protected free speech permits one to have whatever debates you wish, subject to defamation, human rights legislation and hate crime laws. The problem is that anti-Israel rallies throughout Canada have included hate speech calling for the destruction of all Jews in Israel.

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Going back to the calls to not hire these TMU students, employers legally can always decide what is acceptable speech in a particular workplace. If an employer decides that all employees have to be of a conservative, or left-wing, persuasion, there is nothing at law prohibiting that. And if an employer fired an employee for spouting political views which it disagrees with, the employee would have no recourse beyond a wrongful dismissal action.

However, as I have noted, if an employee spouts hate speech in a workplace, they can be fired for cause in the same way that they can be fired if they discriminated against a co-worker in a manner which is racist, sexist, or otherwise prohibited by human rights legislation. And employers’ rights extend beyond their workplace. If an employee uttered hate speech outside of the workplace in a fashion that they could be traced to that workplace and damage that employer’s reputation, that is cause for the dismissal of that employee without severance.

That is why I have previously stated in these pages that any client-facing, public-facing or managerial employee can be fired for cause if they attend a rally where speakers make statements such as “from the river to the sea.”

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It’s worth noting that’s the same phrase that earned Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib a rare censure from the U.S. House of Representatives after she posted it to social media.

I have offered to represent any employer who is sued by such a discharged employee for free — that offer still stands.

Howard Levitt is senior partner of Levitt Sheikh, employment and labour lawyers with offices in Toronto and Hamilton. He practices employment law in eight provinces. He is the author of six books including the Law of Dismissal in Canada.

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